Jungle Tech

How does Donkey Kong manage to engineer everything from a lowly wooden container?

By Adam Sorice. Posted 11/19/2010 15:00 7 Comments     ShareThis

Donkey Kong Barrel masthead

This week we’ve all been talking about how prolific and fascinating the Donkey Kong franchise has shown itself to be over the years. And we have every right to do so. After all, not every average ape could keep up with several physically intense series, practise his necessary sporting skills so he can kick Mario’s behind when required and still manage to eat enough bananas to keep going.

And that’s all great. Impressive, even. Credit to the Kong, in that respect. It’s just not what intrigues me about DK and all his monkeying about. What gets me thinking are all the barrels.

Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong and kart from Mario Kart: Double DashBecause the Donkey Kong series does have a fair few barrels to its name, enough for one to even question where they’ll all coming from. (Is there a whole sale market selling them by the… barrel-load anywhere?) And it’s not like they’re even just sitting about or being used for convenient storage. In Kong’s jungle, everything is made from our favourite wooden, round container.

Take Donkey Kong’s vehicles in the Mario Kart franchise as a prime example. Whatever way you try and shake it, that’s a monkey in a barrel with wheels, people. I cannot even imagine how one begins to try and fit an engine or suspension onto a barrel, let alone make such a thing roadworthy. Are barrel cars environmentally friendly? Technically they are biodegradable, but I wouldn’t like to see the Carbon Dioxide output of a car that runs on bananas.

On a more bizarre scale is the DK cannon that often makes an appearance in Mario Kart games. (On a side note, I would argue that any Mario Kart game that lacks the joy of a DK cannon isn’t a Mario Kart game.) Yes, being fired out of a wooden cannon with your driver’s legs flailing in the air is as giddy a feeling as one can feel when not on a trampoline, but it’s just not right. Not only is there no explanation as to how one is “fired” from the cannon, but the fact that drivers are expected to willingly proceed into a crudely ape-built device and just hope they make it across the massive abyss below is utter madness.

And that’s just in the Mario Kart series, where presumably a series of health and safety guidelines are protecting innocent, vulnerable drivers. While levels run by the likes of Daisy or Yoshi are generally up to code, Donkey Kong’s offerings in recent entries of the karting franchise have been seen as rather shoddy. These ramshackle excuses for race tracks not only show Donkey Kong’s ability to use wood and other primitive materials to build key aspects of his courses but also his reckless attitude to the welfare of other competitors. (Because I don’t believe for a minute that you think those two planks of wood will at all withstand an impact from Bowser, Mr. Donkey Kong.)

Back on his own soil, Donkey Kong took full advantage of the lack of safety guidelines and came up with his most dangerous invention to date: The Barrel Jet Pack. Trust a bunch of fecal-slinging primates, and of course their crocodilian nemeses, to think that flying through the sky while being propelled by a pair of barrels engineered by a hairy ape in a bamboo hut was a good plan. Some members of the Kong family were disappointed with the critical response to their barrel jet pack extravaganza, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast. May I suggest that complaints about the lack of control over characters was down to the fact that instead of having a vehicle with wheels and suspension, you had a couple of banana containers strapped to your back? Mad monkeys…

Donkey Kong Jet RaceMaybe it’s down to the developers of these games more so than Donkey Kong himself though? When Nintendo and its external developers are at the helm of a Kong game, their immense genius always seems to overspill into building vast contraptions out of barrels. This just ends up making the primate look like some mad scientist, always trying to invent the next new thing in jungle convenience. And I doubt he’d even be able to find a lab coat with big enough arm holes to fit on him.

And what barrel-derived contraption did Namco invent when they were in charge of Donkey Kong? A bongo. Well done, Namco, you managed to stretch something over the top of a barrel and yeah, that was it really. Unimpressive, yes. But at least it’s safer than a jetpack.

7 Responses to “Jungle Tech”

  • 1329 points
    Andrew Hsieh says...

    Come now, Messr. Sorice, you of all people should know that Donkey Kong Sr. has all these ideas locked up tighter than Samus must feel in a Morph Ball. He barely even mentioned barrels in my interview with him. I don’t think we’re gonna find out how he did it anytime soon– chalk it up to him being a genius.

    infinite monkeys, infinite typewriters, etc.

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  • 1 points
    Kevin Knezevic says...

    I’m most curious as to how the association between monkeys and barrels even began in the first place. XD

    I think it’s funny that, no matter how outlandish and illogical something in the Mario series may be, nothing seems to stick out quite as much as a jet-propelled barrel.

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    • 697 points
      Adam Sorice says...

      There are talking mushrooms in Mario! If any Toad were to stand still long enough, you’d chuck them on a pizza. And that’s the odd thing; it’s called the Mushroom Kingdom but do we call them mushrooms? Of course not, we name them after amphibians. Madness.

      And when you type into Google “barrel of”, the first suggestion that returns is “monkeys”. So maybe that has something to do with it? :P

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  • 697 points
    Adam Sorice says...

    As opposed to the real world of primates that ride rhinos around the jungle? Of course!

    After reading Hsieh’s marvellous interview with the Kongs, a thought has struck me. Donkey Kong Sr. originally tried to defeat Mario by chucking barrels that had been left around the construction site at the plumber. Perhaps we can assume that he realised the potential of such a container and brought them back to the jungle with him?

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    • 1 points
      Kevin Knezevic says...

      Yeah, I know, it seems ridiculous, but the DK series does appear to adhere more closely to our conception of the real world than the Mario series. Like, if Mario was equivalent to Alice in Wonderland,, then DK would be The Jungle Book— it’s obviously not realistic, but the characters still look and (to a degree) act like the animals they’re supposed to be, so all the “human” things they do just seem to stick out more. Looking back, this whole topic would have probably made a good article in itself. :-P

      But yeah, I do not doubt that DK Sr. was inspired by the barrels he used in his little confrontation with Mario. I’m just wondering why Miyamoto chose barrels as DK’s weapon of choice. It makes sense from a gameplay standpoint, since they would roll down each girder, but was it an intentional reference to the idiom? It was probably just a happy coincidence, but I’d like to think there was more to it than that. XD

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      • 697 points
        Adam Sorice says...

        Wouldn’t we all? :P If Miyamoto just explained his vast logic on everything from the past 30 years then we could all just put our theories to bed. (The original Donkey Kong is 30 years old next year, crikey!)

        And I see your point about the whole Donkey Kong/Jungle Book/ real life comparison idea. Just don’t get me started on Alice in Wonderland and Mario! ;)

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